After the Fall: War and Occupation in Irene Nemirovsky's 'Suite francaise'

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Irene Nemirovsky's war narrative, Suite francaise, was discovered and published posthumously in 2004, over sixty years after it was written. A Jewish Russian immigrant who had achieved literary stardom during the twenty years she lived in France, Nemirovsky wrote her novel during the first years of the Occupation, before she was deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz, where she died in 1942. When published, the book produced an immediate international sensation and has since been translated into more than twenty-five languages. While giving rise to a certain amount of controversy, the novel has been widely acclaimed as a literary masterpiece providing a devastating portrayal of France's defeat and occupation.

In this work, the first critical monograph on Suite francaise, Nathan Bracher shows how, first amid the chaos and panic of the May-June 1940 debacle, and then within the unsettling new order of the German occupation, Nemirovsky's novel casts a particularly revealing light on the behavior and attitudes of the French as well as on the highly problematic interaction of France's social classes. It offers valuable insights on a number of subjects (in particular, the civilian exodus, the relations of French women with German soldiers, and socio-economic conflicts under the Occupation) that, until now, have been too often neglected or misunderstood, while at the same time displaying a striking originality when compared to other discourses and narratives dating from the same period. Bracher dispels a number of misconceptions that have arisen when Suite francaise has been assessed on the basis of biographical presumptions or with respect to current imperatives of the "duty to remember."

Instead of viewing Suite francaise as a source of information about the author or as a simple instrument of memory, we can best understand the novel, Bracher argues, as a specifically configured literary text whose voice can engage its readers in a critical dialogue with the dramatic era of the catastrophic fall of France and the ensuing Occupation. Contrary to certain polemical interpretations, Bracher shows that Nemirovsky's searing novel not only makes a mockery of Vichy ideology but even adumbrates an ethic of resistance.


Nathan Bracher is professor of French at Texas A&M University and author of Through the Past Darkly: History and Memory in Francois Mauriac's Bloc-notes.


"It is well known that human beings are complex, multi-faceted, contradictory, and full of surprises, but it takes a time of war or great upheaval in order to see it. That is the most fascinating and the most terrible spectacle, she thought. The most terrible because it it the most real: you cannot take it for granted that you know the sea without having seen it during a storm as well as during calm weather. The person who knows men and women is somebody who has observed them during an era such as this one, she thought. Only such people know themselves." -- From Irene Nemirovsky, Suite francaise


"A timely exploration of Nemirovsky's literary contribution in Suite francaise. Nathan Bracher shows how Nemirovsky's fictional narrative intersects with existing historical research and makes insightful comparisons with the texts of other contemporary writers. Bracher convincingly takes on Nemirovsky's critics as well as providing an engaging discussion of her narrative techniques and influences. The book will be of interest to all Nemirovsky scholars." --Hanna Diamond, Reader in French History, University of Bath

"After the Fall returns us to the panic and anxieties of 1940 and the months that followed when it was not apparent that Germany would lose the war or that the harsh conditions of life would soon end. Bracher is sensitive to gender showing how as a woman Nemirovsky u

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The Catholic University of America Press
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